Kentucky Kingdom in Louisville has had a rocky history. It has been through multiple owners, has closed and re-opened a couple of times, and until its latest rebirth in 2014, nobody was sure it would ever be open again.
The latest rebirth needed a signature ride to signal the "Return of the Kingdom" and Chance rides was called in to provide the first-ever installation of their new product, the "Hyper GT-X" model coaster.
The coaster itself is mid-sized, and positively dwarfed by most of the huge coasters at King's Island just up the road in Cincinnati. The track design, with its C-shaped cross ties separating the rails looks antiquated compared to more recent box-beam styles. The layout is compact and free of any upside-down moments. So what's so special?
Watching the trainloads of riders while in the queue, you begin to wonder if all the screams indicate a ride that belies its humble statistics and produces unforeseen goodness... or if the folks on it are simply the kind that will scream at anything, even a smallish coaster with no loops. Then you get close enough to notice a few more things.
Things like hair standing straight up over the tops of every hill. Like arms that are trying to stay down, but fling up in the air uncontrollably as the train tops each crest. Like how the screams of joy sound more like screams of terror once in awhile.
But the thing you notice most is when the train comes back home and hits the final brakes, everyone is laughing, cheering, applauding... I haven't seen unanimous brake-run reactions like this since Outlaw Run opened down in Branson.
Arriving in the station, you really notice how beautiful those trains are. Sleek, sexy, and completely without shoulder bars. There are, however, seat belts and lap bars with shin guards that get pushed down by the attendant until your bladder is screaming for mercy and your thighs are aching. I had to beg the attendant to reset mine, as the first time she pushed it down, I had just exhaled and the bar prevented me from inhaling fully. She obliged and I was stapled again, but with room to breathe this time. I'd really prefer a bit less pressure on my body from the restraints, but it seemed that they needed to be REALLY tight before the control room computer would give the OK. Many times, multiple people on the train would have to have the attendant physically shove the bar repeatedly to get an OK. Hopefully, this can be adjusted in the future, as it also prevented some people from riding at all due to not being able to get the restraints tight enough. It also made the loading process very slow.
Once the bars are down and in place, it becomes obvious that the bars have no hand-holds and they're too far down in your lap to hang onto, anyway. That leaves only a bizarre, flexible strap across your lap that I suppose you could hang onto, but I can't imagine it would provide much mental comfort. The left side bracket is free to pivot as well, so the hand-hold (if that's what it is) will move around during the ride. If you're already afraid of coasters, this little tidbit isn't going to reassure you in the least. If you're not afraid, you'll likely be going hands-up anyway, so it's not an issue.
Climbing the lift affords a view of the Kentucky Expo Center parking lot and the airport across the freeway. No thrill there. That's when the front cars begin their descent and you pick up speed toward the top of the hill. You hear screams from the front-of-the-train riders and then it happens...
That seat you felt positively stapled to just a moment ago tries to drag you to hell. It's nearly vertical and it feels much, much bigger than it is. In fact, the only way you even realize that it's a short drop is because you somehow don't have time to exhaust your profanity vocabulary before you get to the bottom. Doesn't stop you from trying, though.
The bottom of the drop has a quick left-hand turn that produces 4 positive Gs and... wait for it... laterals. In an age where manufacturers are apparently doing their damnedest to remove any lateral forces at all in the interest of smoothness, Lightning Run does the unthinkable for a coaster in 2014: it lets you become acquainted with the side of the car. It's not rough nor uncomfortable in any way, like old Arrow rides can be, it's just... there. It's a beautiful thing.
No time to savor that, though, as you find yourself rocketing skyward into a hill that tries to launch you to the moon with airtime. Suddenly you realize that you don't even mind that you're stapled into the car as I imagine thighs would be quite sore after meeting the bar with this much force, even with minimal distance between leg and bar. A deep dive follows, then an overbanked turn.
Overbanked turns have become quite popular in designs lately, likely due to the massive popularity of Cedar Point's Millennium Force. It's a turn that's banked beyond 90 degrees, not quite going upside-down. Most of them are quite large, high up, and have a substantial radius for the turn. Lightning Run's is small, lower to the ground, with a turning circle fit for a MINI Cooper. It races around this thing with speed to spare and before you even know what you just did, it twists back the other way and throws another airtime hill at you.
A semi-helix in the opposite direction, full of humps and valleys, leads to a surprise head-chopper effect under the previous hill, then a swooping turn back to the right.
The next hill has a tiny bit of reverse-banking at the top, which caught everyone on the train off-guard and elicited a rousing chorus of "WOOOAAAHHHH" before plunging into a ground-level zig-zag track with heavy banking, quick directional changes, and even more laterals, taken at ridiculous speed. I'm hoping the park plants a bunch of hedges or bushes around there to enhance the speed sensation even more, plus block the sight lines a bit so the turns are blind. It's a riot of forces down there, yet still remains perfectly smooth and very intense.
This sets things up for the bunny hop finale. I must tell you that I worried a bit about this section, since Chance Rides had acquired Morgan Manufacturing and even though Morgan has built some good coasters, the one part of them that always seemed to be "off" were the bunny hops. Airtime, yes, but usually painful and oddly-shaped. I'm glad to report that Lightning Run didn't inherit any of Morgan's bunny formulas - in fact, they might be the best-engineered string of bunnies of any steel coaster I've ridden. Ejector air that's still pain-free is a very good thing and I love that the middle bunny tricks you by barely having airtime, then you get positively launched on the following one.
Kentucky Kingdom has a bonafide hit on their hands with Lightning Run and I hope it leads to a flurry of similar installations at lots of parks in the future. More of these, please!